Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, impotency, and headaches. Untreated sleep apnea may be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.
What causes Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a breathing disorder, which occurs during sleep, due to the narrowing or total closure of the airway. OSA is when the airway becomes completely blocked and breathing stops. The brain then detects the lack of oxygen and prompts a momentary arousal to draw breath. Although OSA sufferers may experience hundreds of apnea episodes per night, they are unlikely to remember any of them. In fact, if the sufferer lives alone or sleeps separately they may not be aware of their condition, even after many years.
Snoring can be a symptom of OSA and is a noise created by the partial blocking of the airway. When you fall asleep your muscles relax, including those that control the tongue and throat. The soft tissue at the back of your throat can sag, narrowing the airway. Incoming air then makes the tissue at the rear roof of the mouth (the soft palate), the flap of skin hanging from the palate (uvula) and the throat vibrate – a sound we know as snoring.
Snoring is often no greater problem than the noise itself. However, loud snoring may be a sign of a more serious problem – OSA.
Watch this video to see how sleep apnea and snoring occur: